Last week when I posted my plans for 2017, the most common reaction was “What’s a novella?”  There is no official definition, except to say it’s a story that’s not as long as a book.  Very helpful.

Currently a story is considered book-length if it has a minimum of 40,000 words.  Not very long, but readers these days tend to want shorter, faster stories, except for fantasy.  A short story is considered to be under 12,000 words, and there are further definition such as flash fiction, etc.  Therefore, a novella could be considered a story between 12,000 and 40,000 words.

They used to be very popular, appearing in magazines in the early part of the twentieth century.  As magazines bought less and less fiction, the novella market dried up.  Book publishers couldn’t invest the paper and production costs for such a slim volume and expect to make a profit.  The purchase price became too high for the market to bear.

One of the few ways novellas could be sold was if several were packaged together into an anthology.  The thinking was a reader would pick up the book for a favorite author and also get taste for the authors’ writing.  In 1989, Signet Regency, the traditional Regency romance line of Penguin Putnam, published its first A Regency Christmas.

Five popular authors put novellas into the book.  It sold so well that next year, another anthology was produced.  Signet produced an annual Christmas book every year until they stopped publishing in 2005.  Avid readers still have these books on their shelves.

I have all of them.  Every Christmas I pull the entire set out of the cabinet and reread my favorite stories or sample a new/forgotten one during the holiday season.  They introduced to me to fantastic, favorite authors such as Edith Layton, Barbara Metzger and Carla Kelly.  I always dreamed of some day writing a novella, but only after studying how such ladies mastered the form.  Now that my own idea for a novella is on the writing schedule, I look forward to learning through a close analysis of some of my favorite stories.

The happy news is that novellas have come back in style.  Although the printing costs have never declined in price, with e-readers, paper and distribution costs are no longer a factor.  Many authors write a novella, which is then given away free or at a very low price to introduce new readers to their “worlds” or style of writing.  It allows the reader a chance to sample without making the commitment in time or money that a full book requires.   Novellas now suit readers’ busy life styles.

Below, the link takes you to the first Signet Regency Christmas anthology being sold used on Amazon.  If you’re shopping for one, you can find all the years available for sale there.  In this first book, my favorite story is Edith Layton’s “The Duke’s Progress.”  It’s an unusual romance in that the heroine doesn’t physically appear until the very end of the story, but the language reminded me of a beautiful fairy tale that made you catch your breath.  I hope I can command my words half so well when I write.